Phantom Loads

A while back a congressman at a town hall meeting suggested that federal research dollars were being wasted and gave as an example a study examining how much energy is used when a consumer electronic device was turned off. Everybody knows that electronic devices don’t use power when turned off, right?

I am sure the line drew a laugh and the was object of derision of the crowd, but the irony is that the questioned study aimed at reducing waste and therefore saving, not wasting dollars. Real money is wasted on a daily basis due to phantom loads.

image credit: www.nativeenergy.com

image credit: www.nativeenergy.com

Many consumer devices such as televisions, computer printers, video gaming devices, and others are actually in standby, not off when switched off. These phantom loads or sometimes called vampire loads use significant amounts of energy.

There are two basic reasons for the phantom energy use. One is for convenience. Televisions, DVRs and such, are left in stand by mode so that they will come on more quickly. These are so called instant on devices. My LCD television has a little red light which glows when the television is “off” meaning of course that it is still on even though it is turned off. It may be off for 20 hours a day, but is still using power so that it will come on six seconds faster that if it had been unplugged. I use a couple of bucks a year for that six seconds. A couple of bucks a year for just one device is no big deal, but most homes have several instant on devices.

image credit: www.nativeenergy.com

image credit: www.nativeenergy.com

image credit: www.nativeenergy.com

image credit: www.nativeenergy.com

The other type of phantom load comes from the need to transform alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC). AC is the type of electricity that comes out of the wall. It is what the power company delivers and sells to you. Direct current on the other hand is what is used to power some devices and especially to charge anything with a battery. Collectively these are the devices with “the brick”, a transformer. You plug the brick into the wall and then it gets plugged into a device, say a cell phone. Even without the cell phone plugged in (or the computer printer or the computer speakers, or the wireless telephone, et. al.) they are still using power.

The instant on devices use only a fraction of the power when in stand by mode, but the fact that there are numerous devices in a home and they are in this mode most of the time means it can add up. The power bricks are especially inefficient, wasting anywhere from twenty to a whopping eighty percent of the energy consumed. This wasted energy is ultimately lost in the form of heat, adding to air conditioning loads in season. For the average household six to ten percent or more of total power to consumer electronic devices is attributed to phantom loads.

image credit: www.nativeenergy.com

image credit: www.nativeenergy.com


The only answer to reducing these phantom loads is to unplug or “unpower” the device when not in use. A few power strips at strategic locations around the house can save energy. And every bit of energy not used is beneficial to the environment and your pocketbook.

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